An elephant is outfitted with a giant harness that holds a prosthetic leg in place.
I've done quite a few stories about landmine victims, but as tragic and upsetting as they are, they've all had one common thread: the victims have been human. However, this last week, we've uncovered a new dimension to the horror of landmines: elephants. These lumbering, gentle animals are occasionally terribly disfigured when their huge feet detonate hidden explosives.
We've been filming on Thailand's northern border with Myanmar, formerly Burma. The area is littered with landmines left by the military government of Myanmar as it attempts to suppress ethnic Karen rebels. Elephant owners, aka mahouts, often stray deep into this treacherous jungle to find work hauling lumber.
Motala, an elephant, is a typical victim: 46 years old and now missing her front left foot. She arrived on the back of a truck at a hospital run by Dr. Preecha Puangkham. He's received 12 elephants injured by landmines in the last 9 years, which is nowhere near the number of humans that are maimed or even killed, but it's a reminder of just how indiscriminate these weapons are. They can't distinguish between civilian and soldier or even between human and animal. What's tragic for the elephants is that once injured by a landmine, their mahout often just shoots it dead, as the animal is no longer able to work.
Motala is being fitted with an innovative prosthetic leg made from canvas stuffed with saw-dust, attached with ropes. It sounds crazy, but it works. Poor old Motala is wary of putting her full weight on her stump. Perhaps one day she will be able to walk normally, using her man-made limb. (Watch an elephant get a prosthetic leg
There was one sight at the hospital that was even more upsetting though: a baby elephant called Mocha, also missing a foot. She too had stood on a landmine. She too was now being treated at this elephant hospital. Inquisitive, skittish and adorable, she was no taller than my shoulders. A more delightful and playful creature it would be difficult to imagine. Yet Mocha, like Motala, had become a victim to Southeast Asia's awful landmine legacy.